Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Twelve years ago, Gretchen, her twin sister, and her brother went looking for a witch in the forest. They found something. Maybe it was a witch, maybe a monster, they aren’t sure—they were running too fast to tell. Either way, Gretchen’s twin sister was never seen again.
Years later, after being thrown out of their house, Gretchen and Ansel find themselves in Live Oak, South Carolina, a place on the verge of becoming a ghost town. They move in with Sophia Kelly, a young and beautiful chocolatier owner who opens not only her home, but her heart to Gretchen and Ansel. Sophia molds candied magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.
Yet the witch isn’t gone—it’s here, lurking in the forests of Live Oak, preying on Live Oak girls every year after Sophia Kelly’s infamous chocolate festival. But Gretchen is determined to stop running from witches in the forest, and start fighting back. Alongside Samuel Reynolds, a boy as quick with a gun as he is a sarcastic remark, Gretchen digs deeper into the mystery of not only what the witch is, but how it chooses its victims. Yet the further she investigates, the more she finds herself wondering who the real monster is.
I love modern retellings of old fairytales, and Sweetly was another gem of a book. Even though it is set in the modern day, with cars and modern technology and roadside diners, it has so many elements of an old-fashioned traditional story to make it seem timeless. We have the wicked stepmother, creepy things in the woods, and a setting that is so isolated and lonely as to make it feel like anything could happen. The writing feels dark and gritty like a back-to-basics fairytale, but it also has Jackson Pearce's stamp of originality on it- so even though it is based on the story of Hansel and Gretel, it is never what you expect.
When Ansel and Gretchen's stepmother kicks them out they decide to head south for the coast and a new life. But when their car breaks down in a remote village they find themselves stranded. They stay with Sophia, a young woman who runs a chocolatier and sweet shop out in the woods, and help her out to pay for the repairs on the car. But as one days stay turns into a week, and then a month, they start to feel at home in their new situation and find it hard to think about leaving again. Ansel starts to fall for Sophia, and Sophia claims Gretchen's help is indispensable, and their plans to head to the coast start to grow fuzzy.
But the people of the town warn them about Sophia who they say is responsible for the disappearance of several young women in previous years, and there is definitely sinister in the woods surrounding the chocolatier that reminds Gretchen of the death of her sister years before. There are so many different elements woven into the story, and there are so many different things going on that is hard to know what tale to believe. Even impossible myths seem believable and there is definitely something evil lurking in the woods around them. Should Gretchen listen to Sophia who has also lost a sister, or the cute guy in town who doesn't trust Sophia?
As the story progresses Gretchen grows to face her fears of the woods and transforms from the scared girl in the beginning, to a heroine who wants to stop running away and stay and fight. She resolves to learn to protect herself, after feeling scared for most of her life, and I really enjoyed the scenes where Samuel teaches her how to shoot. I just wish that there had been a little bit more of an emphasis on the romance between them.
I also really liked the constant sense of danger throughout the book- the feeling that something was about to happen, and the sense that Gretchen and Ansel were only seeing a part of a larger picture, so I really didn't know which character could be believed. The town that they find themselves in is so small and close-knit with it's own old traditions, and it felt isolated enough to have it's own rules. There are many twists and turns, and the mystery about the missing girls is only gradually revealed, but it had me wanting to race to the end of the book to find out what was going to happen.
Cute and creepy at the same time, with a sense of magic about it, this is a book that got under my skin and had me dreaming about these characters and this place, and will definitely stick in my mind for a long time.
Fairytale Retellings #1
Based on Little Red Riding Hood